A marriage on the rocks

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ICC Executive Board MeetingIndia in South Africa September 3; There are few break-ups that can be described as completely amicable and few people who can part ways without harbouring some ill feeling. The tensions between the BCCI and Cricket South Africa (CSA) seem to be ending the way the worst separations occur: with broken glass, and burnt bridges. Looking at them now, it’s difficult to believe they once romanced each other with the enthusiasm of teenagers but as recently as three years ago, they did.

The Indian and South African cricket boards have had a special association for years, from the time when India were the loudest voice in banning South Africa from international cricket in 1970 – a deserved punishment for the atrocity which was Apartheid – and in welcoming them back in after unity in 1991. They were the first country to host South Africa after readmission and the first to tour these shores.

The 1992-93 series was aptly called the Friendship tour and consisted of four Tests and seven ODIs – almost as long as the one which was proposed for the 2013-14 season. Ali Bacher, who was the South African cricket boss at the time, explained South Africa wanted to host India before anyone else as a “gesture of appreciation,” for the role India played in getting South Africa back into the international game.

The real opportunity to pay the BCCI back only came 16 years later and CSA snapped it up. When the general elections in India made the hosting of IPL 2009 impossible in that country, South Africa offered to organise the multi-million dollar event with little more than three weeks’ notice.

Gerald Majola, then the CEO of CSA, said it was an opportunity to demonstrate the closeness of the two boards and CSA went all out. They provided staff ranging from administrative assistants to groundsmen, many of whom, such as Wanderers’ pitch doctor Chris Scott, had to have leave cancelled as the South African offseason had just begun. CSA helped in contacting partners, hotels, airlines and security personnel, they sold tickets, they marketed the event with even more gusto than they often did with their own and they pulled it off, start to finish, to perfection.  It was also that IPL which was the source of CSA’s biggest scandal since Hansie Cronje’s admission of match-fixing almost a decade earlier. Majola accepted R4.7 million (then US$671,428) in bonuses for him and 39 other staff members but did not pass the money through the CSA board, who had already awarded their employees money for their IPL work.

CSA’s auditors discovered the indiscretion in 2010 and what followed was a three-year-long saga that involved a series of investigations into Majola’s wrongdoing, intervention by the country’s sports minister, withdrawal of all major sponsors and eventually, Majola’s sacking.

Through all of that, the BCCI did not have the need to respond. In fact, their dealings with CSA got stronger with the formation of the Champions League T20 – a partnership between the BCCI, Cricket Australia and CSA – and an additional tour.

India asked South Africa to play two Tests in 2010, as part of their quest to hold on to their No.1 ranking. South Africa obliged but won the first Test in Nagpur courtesy a stunning Dale Steyn performance, only to lose the second in Kolkata and set a scintillating contest for the return series later in the year. The quality of cricket played in the 2010-11 summer was some of the highest in recent times and the 1-1 draw left a lot of unfinished business ahead of this season’s series, which is now in danger of being severely curtailed.

The kernel of the recent friction between the BCCI and CSA appear to boil down to one man: Haroon Lorgat. The parties locked horns over a variety of issues when Lorgat was the ICC CEO and neither side has been willing to disclose exactly what those are.

When he was appointed as Majola’s replacement, Lorgat said he was surprised to learn the BCCI disapproved of it and even threatened BCCI with a shortened or cancelled tour. He said he regarded the BCCI as “friends” and would do whatever it took to smooth things over, even if it meant sitting across a table and apologising. His words were reassuring but his actions have not been.

To date, Lorgat has made no plans to visit India and has not even been willing to acknowledge the obvious signs that the series will be affected. CSA’s only statement is that they will not respond to speculation and that they have not heard from the BCCI about revisions to the existing itinerary. The financial implications are huge for CSA, who stand to lose out on R175 million if a shortened series happens.

While the BCCI was out of place in trying to dictate internal affairs at CSA and reams have been written about the danger their growing hegemony on world cricket poses. But CSA have not dealt with the situation as professionally as they could have.

CSA have been unwilling to address any of the issues related to a possible reduced itinerary. Instead, they’ve busied themselves with conferences – a CEO’s one last week, a sponsor’s forum this week – and given their fans nothing to ease their concerns. While it is understandable that CSA do not have answers yet, it is difficult to fathom why they are ignoring the problem to this extent.

It’s clear to even the casual observer that CSA are being pushed around and that it is not right but given India’s clout through cash, it is also perhaps unavoidable. Under the radar, there are murmurings of CSA being pushed out of the CLT20. This year’s fixtures were released without their consultation and their staff who were due to work at the event in India, have been told their services are not needed. There is also talk of another board being invited to replace CSA.

Should they eventually be displaced, both from the CLT20 and India’s plans, the losses will be both financial and cricketing. The CLT20 was one of the franchise’s most important sources of earning. CSA make at least four times more money off an India incoming tour than any other. And cricket lovers, judging on the responses on social media, want to see at least three Tests between the two teams this summer. What is obvious is that this is not the time for CSA to resort to the silent treatment.

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